Monday, September 24, 2007

Getting a passport and what it has to do with the NBN project

Just came from the Department of Foreign Affairs office in Pasay city to renew the passports of my daughter and my wife. The lines were long and the gym was hot, more than a thousand people crammed in a basketball-sized court.

To get in this court of first resort, we lined up for about thirty minutes exposed to the hot sun and intermittent rain. As we entered the gate, we saw more than a thousand people snaking their way to various stops. Sweating, standing in line, and shuffling our way, we found out that we had waited for about 90 minutes, only to have our papers (the application forms which we had downloaded the night before) "verified" and stamped by a perfunctionary who does not even bother to actually check the documents. We had the time to directly observe this verifier going about his work with thirty or more applicants, and not once did we see him actually check the supporting documents. In fact, we heard one of the applicants complain that he was sent back to this line because he was missing a document; however, he showed us that his form had been stamped verified, not once but twice. Oh! We were not able to apply for my daughter's passport renewal because she had her passport pictures in white background when the new rule states that the background should now be blue. We learned that this rule was in effect two weeks ago but when we checked the DFA website last night, the white background was the posted specification. Either they don't regularly update the site, they do not consider the paying public's convenience as important, or they want to exponentially increase the sales of their in-house photoshop. Whatever the reason, the DFA website is misleading at the least.

Finally, we were to wait in line but now seated on monoblock benches. After another 30 minutes, we were able to get our papers signed off in counters A and then B. So after almost three hours, we finally exited the court and can you guess what immediately faced us: four-deep snaking lines of people waiting under the open air to enter gate 2. Once inside the building, we expected to wait in line again for other bureaucratic procedures and again line up to pay the cashier.

After waiting for twenty minutes outside and when it started to shower, we decided that we had had enough and would come back the next day to wait our turn to enter through gate 2. We had waited in line for almost four hours, and we were only halfway through. And we were there to renew passports. Theoretically, it should take much less time than applying for a new passport. Talk about efficiency and public service.

DFA has been computerized for years now, but it has not improved its efficiency in serving the paying public. In fact, it has not improved at all: I have applied with the DFA for more than two decades now, and I haven't remembered that it was this bad as what we experienced today. Now, we have the proposed National Broadband Network (NBN) and Cyber-Ed projects with a combined cost of P42 billion pesos, promising a multitude of benefits for the user. However, these users are non-paying and non-revenues- they will not be in a position to complain about poor services which we have learned to expect from any government service provider. If the DFA with their years of using computer systems have been pathetically unable to provide a semblance of good service to its paying passport applicants, how can you expect the DOTC and DepEd to do better than the more technologically-experienced DFA? And they plan to do it nationwide: technological gnats trying to wrestle an elephant, a sure case of biting off more than they chew. What a joke! Reminds me of the Land Transportation Office who promised better and faster service with their vaunted computerization project but in my three visits to the LTO, I still wait for hours and even days to renew licenses or register my vehicles.

Come to think of it- can you name me a national government agency that has improved its services to the public using a nationwide computerization system. I am sure you can name agencies that have miserably failed the expectations of the public: LTO, DFA, Immigration. What about the Comelec? Well, if it had actually used the computers it had bought (now obsolete) , Comelec would become a bigger failure than it is now, or is this possible?

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